Monday, August 29, 2011

Guide Books of the Superstitions

August 29, 2011 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

Many books have been written on the Superstition Wilderness Area and the Lost Dutchman Mine. I must admit the best books written and compiled are those that serve us as guidebooks. Dr. Michael Sheridan, a geology professor at Arizona State University, wrote the first Superstition Wilderness Guidebook in 1971. Sheridan became a world renowned expert on eruptive volcanics. He studied the Superstition and Goldfield volcanic fields for many years while at Arizona State University. His guide book on the Superstition  Wilderness was the first book of any kind on the wilderness that discussed the terrain and illustrated trails.

Dr. Sheridan’s book was followed by Dick and Sharon Nelson’s book titled Hiker’s Guide to the Superstition Mountains, published by the Telecote Press, Glenwood, NM, in 1979. Nelson’s book was a very popular guide book for many years. This fine book gave information about the trails and some of the interesting points along the trails. The book also presented a little of the history of the area, but primarily described the forest service trail system.

The Nelson’s book was followed by another book titled Hiker’s Guide to the Superstition Wilderness Area  by Jack Carlson and Elizabeth Stewart first published in 1995. The cover of this book includes a photograph of Elisha Marcus Reavis, known as the “Hermit of Superstition Mountain.” This three hundred and seventeen
page book provides excellent information on the history, trails, and terrain of the Superstition Wilderness Area. Reading this book would prepare the average outdoor person for the rigors of hiking the wilderness area. Carlson and Stewart provide preparatory material in their book on survival and other cautions one should take before embarking upon a wilderness experience.

This book can be excellent information for the hikers who experience the area for the first time. I would suggest anyone using this book adhere to the information closely because Jack Carlson and Elizabeth Stewart are very knowledgeable about the Superstition Wilderness Area. Their experiences dates back more than thirty years and they certainly know what they are talking about. Any person using the Superstition Wilderness Area system trails should have copies of both their books, Hikers Guide to the Superstition Wilderness, 1995 and Superstition Trails East, 2010. These books include the entire Superstition Wilderness Area’s system trails and many non-system trails. The books also include interesting historical highlights of the area including mining and ranching history. Their books include numerous historical photographs of the region, detailed maps and map information.

Area search and rescue groups are constantly dealing with lost hikers and overdue hikers in the Superstition Wilderness Area. Presently there are four men missing in the Superstition Wilderness Area. One Colorado man has been missing since December 20, 2009, and three Utah men have been missing since July 6, 2010. All of them allegedly, according to family, planned their trips carefully for their trips into the Superstition Wilderness Area. The Colorado man, Jesse Capen, went into the mountains alone and basically just disappeared after setting up his camp above Kane Springs near the Peter’s Canyon Trail. The three Utah men parked their car at First Water and hiked into the mountains and vanished. I suppose the word “vanished” is a little strong, however that is exactly what they did. Not one single clue had been found that can be associated with these men.

I sincerely believed if they had use maps and guide maps properly and prepared themselves for the rigors of this mountain wilderness they would have been found a long time ago. Some people just wonder aimlessly about this vast wilderness with no maps or guidebooks. I sincerely believe maps and guidebooks are an important deterrent in preventing someone from becoming lost or disoriented.

Of course you can never overlook the importance of water. During the summer months when temperatures exceed 108 degrees a gallon a day is the very minimal amount you need to survive.

Jack Carlson and Elizabeth Stewart’s books are the best guidebooks available on the area. I would highly recommend them to anyone using the wilderness or interested in the history of the wilderness.

Monday, August 22, 2011

The CCC Camp in Apache Junction

August 22, 2011 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

The “Great Depression” of the thirties brought many new things to America and even to Apache Junction. During the mid-1930s, Apache Junction was a service station at the junction of the Apache Trail (State Route 88) and U.S. Highway 60 known today as the “Old West Highway.” Some 200 people lived in the area at this time.

On March 31, 1933, the United States Congress passed the Emergency Conservation Act that created the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). The purpose of the bill was to take young men off the street and put them to work. Some historians claim the act served as a method for the government to start training men for a possible war in Europe. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt had been in office only seventeen days when this program was sent to Congress.

Young men from urban America, primarily between the ages of 18 – 25 were enlisted and sent to CCC camps around the country. These CCC camps were run much like a military camp. Membership was strictly voluntary. These young men were trained and then sent out to build roads, reforest, excavate archaeological sites, build recreation sites, etc. Each company contained between 175 and 250 young men.

Eleven camps were operated in Arizona. One of the camps was located about four miles east of Apache Junction’s “Y,” near the present site of Thunder Mountain Middle School on 16th Avenue, east of Goldfield Road. This particular camp was known as Camp Superstition Wash, Company No. 2864, Camp No. SCS-20-A.

Early in July of 1935, several rail car loads of “knockdown” portable houses, barracks, a mess hall and storage buildings were deposited at the Mesa railhead. The materials had been hauled from Fort Bliss, Texas, by rail.

The establishment of Camp Superstition Wash was dependent on a good supply of water. The original well that supplied the camp failed, and water had to be hauled from Apache Junction at $1 per thousand gallons. Meeting the water demands of Camp Superstition Wash was always a problem as most wells in the Apache Junction were not deep enough to guarantee a continued supply. One of the main wells supplying the camp was J.R. Morse’s well on Highway 60.

The young men who worked out of the CCC camp in the Apache Junction were responsible for building many of the small erosion control dams found along the slopes of Superstition Mountain. They built many flood control dams, contoured ditches, and water spreading dikes to help prevent erosion. These young men worked hard, but still found time for religious services and educational classes. Camp Superstition Wash operated from August 11, 1935, until June 30, 1942, when it was abolished due to increased employment and the need of young men for the war effort.

It is interesting to make note that many veterans of World War II started training in a civilian conservation corps camp in Apache Junction. Not only was Camp Superstition Wash located in Apache Junction, one of the camp’s members was a long time resident of the Apache Junction area. That was Mr. Jess Brown. Mr. Brown and his wife Levis were very involved with Apache Land in the early and mid 1960s. The Browns always claimed the CCC’s helped put America back to work after the “Great Depression.”

I want to thank Superstition Mountain Historical Society and John Irish, President of the Arizona Chapter of the National Association of Conservation Corps Alumni, for their assistance with information for this article. Other sources of information included the Arizona Republic and the Mesa Journal Tribune.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Haboobs - Desert Dust Storms

August 15, 2011 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

Summer storms in the desert are often known as the Monsoons. These storms bring massive thunderstorms with dust, heavy showers, lightning, dust storms and sometimes devastating wind called a “micro burst.”

During the summer months most of the storms over central Arizona and the Superstition Wilderness Area result from warm moist air flowing in from the Gulf of Mexico and the Sea of Cortez (Gulf of California). This warm moist air moves across Texas, New Mexico and Mexico. Mountains force this warm moist air upward forming clouds filled with moisture sometimes saturated to the maximum.

These clouds release their moisture as they rise and cool. This is known as orographic lift. The massive anvil-shaped thunderheads clouds that form over Superstition Mountain from July to September are normally formed by two methods, orographic lift and convectional activity. The convectional storm clouds result from rapidly rising and expanding warm moist air and falling cold moist air. This uneven heating of the Earth’s surface is caused by the open cloud pattern in the atmosphere.

Lightning can be caused by the attraction of unlike electrical charges within a thunderhead cell. The rapid movement of ice and water molecules going up and down in a thunderhead cell creates friction that results in an enormous amount of energy being produced in the form of static electricity. A single lightning discharge can produce about 30 million volts at 125,000 amperes. This discharge can occur in less than 1/10 of a second. The results of a lightning strike can be horrific. Never make yourself a target for a lightning strike by being caught in an high, open area or by standing near a natural lightning rod such as a lone tree on a ridge.

The rapid rising and falling of warm and cold moist air also can create violent bursts of energy. This type of activity results in micro burst both small and large. Small micro bursts can develop winds momentarily up to 200 mph. The also can create winds across wide area up 80 mph. These are the winds prior to precipitation can create huge dust storms. These dust storms can momentarily be 100 miles wide, over a mile high and capable moving tons of desert fines (dust). These storms in northern Africa and the Middle East are known  as Haboobs as they roar out of the Sahara desert. Since the late 1960s this Middle East name has been  attached to Arizona dust storm. Some of these dust storms are enormous and extremely dangerous for the transportation.

What is the cause of these dangerous dust storms? The most recent dust storm on Tuesday, July 7, 2011 was certainly one of the largest ever experienced by this state. These dust storms appear to be far more severe in recent years. A lot of the Sonoran Desert in Central Arizona has been disturbed for housing pad development on thousands of acres and then the housing boom died. Now this land set barren and undeveloped. What little vegetation that covered the desert before preparation for development has been removed. Also unpaved roads and the irresponsible use of ATV and other vehicles off road contribute to the problem. All of this certainly a part of this problem of dust storms blowing toward the Salt River Valley from Central Arizona. Yes, there are many other factors to include into this equation including agriculture, arid condition, and uncontrolled growth.

The monsoons are associated  with very dangerous factors we should all be aware of. These factors include dust storms, high winds, lightning, and flash floods. I have mentioned the other factors in previous columns. If you are caught in a dust storm use common sense to survive. Get as far as you can off the highway right-of-way, park your vehicles and turn off your lights. Don’t keep your foot on the brake pedal. There are still those who drive in dust and fog at very unreasonable rates of speed endangering themselves and other. If they see your brake lights they might drive right off the highway and into you vehicle.

 Our desert is being disturbed more and more each year and the dust storms will probably become more prominent, dangerous and severe. If we are not careful we will be looking like Oklahoma during the “Dust Bowl” of the 1930s. Oklahoma’s “Dust Bowl” was caused by drought primarily during the 1930s. There has been an effort by the cities, state, and counties to suppress the problem with some dust control methods such as paving dirt roads and trying to limit the number ofacres of land for vegetation removal for  development.

These methods only help, however during periods of drought dust storms are part of living in the Southwest deserts.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Protecting Our Natural Resources

August 8, 2011 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

There are still some hidden natural treasures in the Superstition Wilderness Area that continue to defy being discovered by contemporary man. I strive to maintain the secrecy of some of these places for fear the gentle public will just trash these beautiful sites.

At one time the Superstition Wilderness Area was a large area of public land explored only by cattlemen and few prospectors and hunters. Today, it has become a haven of hiking trails for hikers of our modern society. Far more hikers explore these mountains today then 30 years ago. Some of the really beautiful areas I use to visit have become somewhat trashed because people do not carry out what they pack into this wilderness.

The most common trash I find these days are cans, bedding, camp gear, etc. Not too many years ago we packed seven packhorses full of trash out of the Reavis Ranch area and if we had had 10 more pack horses we could have used them also. Even some of the very remote area sin late spring where water is sometimes abundant from the spring-run off there are large piles of trash left behind by inconsiderate and ignorant people who help destroy this fragile environment we call the Superstition Wilderness Area. Any desert eco-system is very fragile to human impact.

Places like lower Peter’s Canyon with all of it pools of water in the spring is a beautiful place to visit. This is also of true of La Barge, Needle, and the Boulder Canyon systems.

Fish Creek and Rough Canyons are extremely rough but are spectacular in the spring with the Cottonwood’s leafing out and water flowing in the canyon. Another extremely unique area is Reavis Creek above Reavis Fall. This canyon is also spectacular with its Sycamores, Cottonwoods and Ponderosa pines.

All who enjoy the great outdoors can marvel at the beauty of these desert riparian canyons. These canyons place beauty in a completely different perspective. Many wonderful photographers chase these perfect settings to photograph for all eternity.

Recently I observed on Facebook one of the truly unique desert oasis and ecosystem in the Superstition Wilderness Area. As soon as others saw this beautiful place they wanted to know how to get there. Knowing the terrain and difficulty to get there I knew there would be folks who would hike in to the area, but wouldn’t carry out their trash. This has always been my fear of revealing these beautiful isolated riparian areas to the general public.

Again I recently visited an area where turf (tagging) signs were painted on the rocks with spray paint. This is another reason for keeping the ignorant and irresponsible out of these beautiful riparian areas.

This is enough said about preservation in the desert and other areas of Arizona. It is a full time job to keep our natural wonders policed from the irresponsible users. I would recommend everyone report anyone they see tagging and damage public property, and especially our natural resources.

Many evenings my wife and I walk out at Needle Vista View Point about eight miles northeast of Apache Junction. Sometime between 8 p.m. Friday, July 29, 2011, and 7:30 p.m. Sunday, July 31, 2011, somebody “tagged” the Needle Vista View Point area.

We have often seen the guardrails along State Route 88 at Fish Creek Hill tagged with all kinds of personal graffiti.

Tagging with paint cans and markers is becoming a bigger and bigger problem in our area. The public needs to support law enforcement in an attempt to stop this irresponsible behavior that damages our public property and natural resources.

Not too long ago I listened to an adult defend taggers by saying “tagging has been around for thousands of years.” There is a big difference between taggers and the ancients who marked messages on rocks thousands of years ago.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Joe Henry's Gold

August 1, 2011 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

The following is a story that is on the side of myth, however one can still find substantiating facts that might support such a bizarre tale. The story goes something like this:

On a dark, cold January morning in the late 1920s Joe Henry (not his real name) was returning from Canyon Lake after an all night fishing trip. His luck had been bad and the continuous noise of the rough dirt road called the Apache Trail irritated him to no end. Near Government Well he blew a tire. As he stepped from his vehicle to survey the damage he realized his spare was also flat.

The Apache Trail was a lonely place to be 80 years ago. Joe Henry soon realized he had two choices; one was to remain with his vehicle and wait for help, or walk to George Curtiss’ place some 10 miles down the road. He looked at his watch; it read 5:45 a.m. Sunrise was still more than an hour away and there was little chance of hitching a ride before 10 a.m. Joe carefully fished out a pint of bootleg from his tackle box and began to walk toward Apache Junction. Near sunrise Joe Henry was almost frozen as he sat along the road resting. Around 6:30 a.m. the temperature had slipped down in the upper twenties. As he looked across the landscape toward Superstition Mountain’s northwest end he saw an unfamiliar glitter. After a couple snorts from his bottle he decided to check it out. He made his way toward the extreme northern end of Superstition Mountain. Resting momentarily near Silverlock and Malm’s old cabin, Joe could see in the distance a gleaming light that appeared to be a mirror.

As he hiked slowly up the slope of the mountain he could see a large mirror hanging from a Palo Verde tree. Nearing the base of the tree he could see a small opening in the ground. Joe Henry had always dreamed of finding a treasure, and a mixture of whiskey and a cold January morning had led him to the verge of making one of the most important discoveries of his life.

Joe Henry was a dirt-poor farm laborer who always worked for somebody else. Once a month he would go fishing up to Canyon Lake and hang one on. To make each of these fishing trip, Joe had to save every nickel and dime to do it.

It was January 1929, and times were good, but old Joe Henry had never succeeded at anything. Joe Henry had arrived in Arizona about 1922, shortly after World War I. He was an honest and dependable man except for one weekend a month. However, he always lacked the ability to find a good job.

Carefully, Joe Henry examined the hole in the ground that was 18 inches in diameter. Without any light, he couldn’t explore the hole, so he picked up the mirror and reflected the early morning sunlight into the hole. To his astonishment, he witnessed the dreams of many. There before him lay a treasure. Stacked neatly along the wall of the small cave were several rustic-appearing leather bags. He reached for the first one and pulled it from the cave. Excitedly, he opened the leather poke in the bag and poured its contents on the ground. Yes, Joe Henry had found a storehouse, a treasure of gold. There on the ground before him lay many gold nuggets, most very small. Quickly, Joe Henry gathered up four bags of the gold and headed for the Junction.

Some years later Joe Henry claimed there were some thirty bags in the cave filled with gold. Joe, on that January morning removed some 150 ounces of gold from the cave and packed it to Apache Junction. The  shortest route back to civilization was straight across the desert to Apache Junction. Once Joe reached the Apache Trail he was completely somber and hitched a ride into Apache Junction. He soon had his vehicle repaired. George Curtiss remembered taking Joe back to his vehicle and fixing his tire for him. Joe gave him a small nugget for his effort. Curtiss didn’t think much of it because a lot of the old timers would have small quantities of gold in nugget form. Joe Henry returned to his small cabin on the farm he worked at.

This may sound like the imaginative story of some treasure hunter however just after Joe Henry’s encounter with the glittering mirror and just before the Great Depression he was able to purchase a large farm in the Mesa area. Today Joe’s heirs are living in luxury from the fortune he found and turned into a successful farming operation. Many historians familiar with this story believed Joe found a Goldfield high-grader’s cache and capitalized on it.

Joe Henry claims he continued to search for the cache for twenty years periodically, but could never relocate it again. Until his death in 1974, he still possessed three of the largest nuggets from his find in 1929. Some old-timers did not believe the gold Joe had came from the Goldfields. Just maybe there is a gold cache located somewhere on the slopes of Superstition Mountain waiting to be discovered. There was plenty of high-grading (stealing of gold ore) in the Mammoth Mine during it hey day from 1893-1897.